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05/12/2006: Cheesy Jokes
I had a realization yesterday while eating a large bowl of pasta. I love lots and lots of parmesan cheese… or none at all. Because, as dull as an absence of parmesan is, what is far worse is a little bit that is not nearly enough. This is also true about phone calls with loved ones who are a very long way away.
Realizations are a wonderful place to look for comedy because they show you two aspects of a character's mind – their first take on something, and then their re-evaluation. The buyback jokes I mentioned in the last post are one kind of realization – the kind where you realize you want to take back what you just said.
But there are other kinds. I find that I tend to write these jokes in pieces, because I actually have the revelation while writing them. That's why, in my own little brain, I think of these as "truth" jokes, because in the middle of writing them, I realize what the truth of the situation is, as I see it.
Here's a truth joke:
She's fascinating. She designs computer programs for a civil engineering company. She makes a typo, a bridge collapses.
Or it’s extra strong. Could go either way.
I wrote the first line, just thinking that it was amusing that Jake would be impressed by a woman who can make a bridge collapse. And then I thought about the truth of the situation and realized that math errors don't only go one way. Suddenly I had (what I think is) a much funnier joke.
The same thing happened in a Buffy episode in which Xander is looking at a magic talisman that turns out to be simply a flattened nickel. I wrote the first sentence of what follows. And then I looked closer at my nickel.
Washington's still there, but he's all smooshy. And he may be Jefferson.
I decided it would be funnier – and truer -- to make Xander as dumb as I was, and have him make the realization, than it would be for him to get it right in the first place.
I was surprised how many of these I found in my writing. Apparently I do a lot of just random starting out of jokes, letting them turn into other jokes along the way. Here's another truth joke from an Animated Buffy in which she's been shrunk down very small – like to about 6 inches tall. She's trying to climb a staircase, and reacting to what she sees. I knew the riser would look tall. And then I realized it would also look irregular…
Boy. Everything's so tall. And... textured.
Sure, it's not really a laugh-out-loud joke, but I kept it in the script because I was kind of tickled at the thought of Buffy noticing that and being distracted by it, in the middle of her shrinking crisis.
If you've written something that seems true for a character, and then you have a realization, maybe the character needs to go through the same thing. It's a good way to keep the writing from seeming "pat," like the characters are too smart and prepared.
Lunch: Another delightful lunch with Jeff Greenstein! I had a big bowl of pasta and the waiter brought me additional parmsesan when I asked.